Sciatica (or sciatic neuritis) is a set of symptoms arising from the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerves or nerve roots. It is experienced as pain in the lower back and buttocks, and sometimes in the legs and feet, and may be accompanied by tingling sensations or numbness, muscle weakness and restricted leg movement. The pain may be felt to “travel” down the leg, and is commonly felt only on one side of the body.
If you suffer from sciatica, it is important to remember the term “set of symptoms.” This means that it is a description of the effects, rather than a diagnosis or exact description of what causes them. Sciatica can be caused by several different conditions. For this reason it is important to see your chiropractor to get an accurate diagnosis to determine the actual cause of the symptoms in your case. Any treatment regime or set of prescribed exercises will depend on the exact nature of this diagnosis, and cannot be generalized.
Following an examination, your chiropractor may recommend a series of chiropractic manipulations to treat the underlying structural cause of the condition, but will also prescribe a series of exercises to relieve the pain by stretching tight muscles that may be contributing to it by maintaining pressure on the sciatic nerves. Exercise is often felt by the sciatica sufferer to be counter-intuitive, because the pain can be so severe that one is tempted to take painkillers and go to bed and rest until it subsides. But in reality one of the best forms of self-treatment is exercise, either in the form of walking or gentle stretching movements. The exercise will strengthen the muscle groups that support your lower spine and back, stimulate blood flow to the area to promote healing, and cause the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers.
Exercises to relieve the symptoms of sciatica may vary, depending on the specific cause of the condition, but a few general observations can be made about them. Most sets of sciatica exercises involve strengthening the abdominal muscles, which better support the spine and keep it properly aligned when they are strong. Sciatica exercises also often include gentle stretching of the hamstring muscles. Once the initial sciatica pain has been treated via chiropractic manipulation or other means, walking is often a great form of self-treatment, because it contributes not only to healing by promoting blood flow but also strengthens the muscles that support the lower back.
In some cases, “press ups” (lying on your stomach and pressing your upper body up with your arms, similar to the chataranga or “up dog” pose in yoga) can be beneficial. “Curl ups” (lying on your back with your knees bent and gently curling the upper body up and holding the position for a few seconds) can also strengthen the abdominal muscles, and are easier than traditional “sit ups.” Leg raises (lying on your back and gently lifting first one leg and then the other and holding it for a few seconds) can also be effective. If your sciatic pain is severe, you may find these and other exercises easier to perform in water.
With all sets of exercises used to treat the symptoms of sciatica and relive its pain, there are three things to remember. First, as mentioned above, don’t start a generic set of these exercises without consulting a professional to determine the exact cause of your symptoms. Second, “easy does it.” Don’t strain or try to attain or hold any position that is uncomfortable for you. And third, be consistent; the benefits of exercise for sciatic pain depend on doing them regularly.
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